Daring to Be Dull

“Straight as an arrow, exasperatingly thorough, extremely earnest, smart, plain, pragmatic, wonkish. He was a stickler, a self-described curmudgeon.”

David Butler, an editor for Stars and Stripes, was beaten to death almost 17 years ago in Arlington, Va., on his way home after a night shift.

I was in D.C. at the time, and although I never met him, this remembrance has stuck with me, partly because of the horrific nature of the crime, which appears to remain unsolved. But in him I also saw -- perhaps with some self-flattery and a touch of embarrassment -- myself.

His work mirrored my own, hanging around “in case you have to tear up the front page for a nuclear explosion or the death of a princess.”

(Like him, I was in the newsroom on my 30th birthday, which was an election night. Like him, I was surrounded by pizza boxes. Unlike him, I was not in the company of a stripper.)

I was also well familiar with “those strange small hours, our 5 p.m., our quitting time, the world’s middle of the night” and could easily envision the circumstances in which he was killed.

I’ve recently been thinking about David because he sounded like most of the journalists I’ve worked with over a 22-year career in newspapers: dedicated, careful but human, and honestly trying to provide a fair and accurate account of the facts in an often messy world.

“He was, in short, everything you want in the guy who edits your newspaper.”